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Monday, 13 August, 2001, 09:47 GMT 10:47 UK
Stillborns buried in mass graves
Some babies are buried at a local cemetary
Up to 3,000 stillborn babies and foetuses were buried in mass graves at a hospital cemetery in Middlesbrough in a practice that continued until the 1980s, it has been revealed.

Many of the babies were buried without the knowledge of their parents.

I think it is shocking

June Townson
Parkside Maternity Hospital closed down in 1985 - but parents are only now learning about the mass graves, some of which hold the bodies of up to 300 babies.

June Townson is one mother who has located the exact spot in Linthorpe Cemetery where her little girl lies buried.

But she feels the hospital authorities have treated parents badly by not telling them where their children are.

She told the BBC: "I think it is shocking.

"I am quite happy that I have found my baby and I can go whenever I want to the cemetery. I wish they would sort it out for every other mother."

Normal practice

Rev Philip Carringdon
Rev Philip Carringdon said the practice was widespread
The Reverend Philip Carringdon, the senior chaplain for the South Tees Hospitals NHS Trust, said the practice was discontinued when the hospital closed down.

He said mass burial was, at the time, normal practice.

"Groups of babies were brought together, almost in the sense of playmates being brought together to be buried in one place.

"People thought they were doing the right thing for the parents by not inflicting on them more trauma.

"It was a hard enough for them to have lost a baby."

Rev Carringdon said the local clergy often carried out a memorial service for bereaved families.

"The families were not totally alone, however the situation was far from satisfactory."

He said that records should be able to pinpoint where most of the babies were buried.

However, he said not everybody wanted to know, and details would only be given to parents who made a formal request.

Widespread practice

Professor Brian Footitt, director of nursing development for the trust, said: "The Trust deeply regrets any distress this practice, which was widespread at the time, has caused to families who tragically lost children at Parkside Maternity Hospital in the past.

"We would like to stress that since the very early 1990s, our policy of supporting mothers of stillborn or miscarried children has significantly changed. It is honest and open and has been continuously improved to a high standard.

"However we do recognise those standards were not available to women prior to that time and we apologise for that but it was never the case these babies were treated disrespectfully by hospital staff."

The trust has set up a hotline for parents wanting more information. The number is 01642 854100.

The BBC's John Thorne
"It was an insensitive practice"
Reverend Philip Carringdon
"The babies were buried in what was described as 'normal practice'"
Patrick Wilcockson of SANDS
"A bereaved mother wouldn't be allowed to look at her baby"
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